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PASTORAL POWER IN THE POSTCOLONY: On the Biopolitics of the Criminal Animal in South India



In this article, I argue that a close examination of the government of animals by humans is essential for an anthropology of modern biopolitics: for an understanding, that is, of the many ways in which humans themselves have been governed as animals in modern times. I aim also to work toward a way of theorizing such biopolitics in milieus beyond the modern West. Relying on cultural and historical materials from South India, I call attention to three domains of local biopolitical difference: the particular conditions of modernity that constitute certain human lives as an animal object of government, the quotidian practices of care and struggle through which animals are governed in moral terms, and the cultural idioms through which these lives become visible and intelligible as appropriate sites for the exercise of both power and resistance. The empirical ground of this article is formed by three modes of government of human and animal existence in colonial and postcolonial South India: the management of a population of subjects putatively criminal by nature as organisms of instinct and impulse by means of the colonial Indian Criminal Tribes Act; the contemporary echoes of such policing in the everyday practices through which cultivators and plowmen in the region govern the moral conduct of their oxen; and the persistent postcolonial legacies of a Tamil political idiom of “grazing” or restraining populations of human and animal beings deemed incapable of restraining themselves. The intimacy between practices of care and techniques of control in each of these instances suggests that a close attention to animality may provide a way of resolving some of the constitutive paradoxes of the “pastoral” mode of power elaborated by Michel Foucault.